White Bean Dip with Roasted Garlic, Pancetta & Spinach

I gave a bite of this one to one of my main taste testers, my five year old son, and got the immediate nod of approval.  He could be a professional tester one day, I swear.  The moment something hits his mouth he either says ‘mmm” and nods in approval or basically says ‘yuck’ and literally spits it out.  Stand clear.  He’s either all in or all out.  He has a grown up palette at age 5 and I’ve been able to test countless recipes with him.  I think it comes down to balance of flavor and texture and if a dish has that he likes it.  Well…that’s my theory for the day anyway.  So just try this one and see if you agree.  The white beans are creamy and are a great base to absorb all the flavor I added to it.  Garlic becomes sweeter and nutty when you roast it so, even though I use a lot of garlic in this recipe it’s not overly garlicky.  The pancetta adds a nice crunch but my favorite part is that little bit of fresh baby spinach.  Not a lot because it’s not a spinach dip but just enough to make this dip different from other heavier bean dips you may have had.  And of course I can’t have a bean dip without some acid (lemon zest and juice), heat (red pepper flakes), and cheese (Parmesan).  Great to make ahead and reheat later!  Roast the garlic a day or two in advance and refrigerate and you have a really easy and quick dish.

  1. Preheat oven to 325.  Cut the top ¼ inch off the top of the garlic head and place in foil.  Drizzle with olive oil and bake for about 50 minutes until golden brown and tender.  Remove from foil and let cool slightly.  The garlic should pop right out of the skins.  Can be done 2 days ahead of time and refrigerated.
  2. Increase oven temperature to 350. Cook the pancetta low and slow in a heavy medium skillet until crisp.  Remove from pan.
  3. In a large food processor combine the beans, roasted garlic (10-12 cloves total), olive oil, parmesan cheese, rosemary, red pepper flakes, lemon zest, lemon juice salt and pepper.  Pulse several times to combine; ensuring the garlic is evenly distributed, but not so much that the bean mixture is a smooth paste.  A little texture is good. Place mixture in a large bowl.
  4. With a rubber spatula gently fold in 3 pieces of the crumbled pancetta and chopped spinach.  Place in a buttered oven proof serving dish and top with the last piece of pancetta, crumbled, and a little more Parmesan cheese.  Bake until warm and bubbly, approximately 30 minutes.  Serve warm with Crostini or room temperature.  Also makes a great side dish or base to a protein dish like roasted chicken or fish.
1 15oz can Cannellini beans

½ small head garlic

½ cup extra virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon fresh rosemary, chopped

¼ teaspoon (little more if you like heat) crushed red pepper flakes

2 teaspoons lemon zest (approx ½ lemon), and 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

¼ cup Parmesan, grated plus more for top

4 slices Pancetta or bacon

1 cup packed Baby spinach, chopped

1 teaspoon kosher salt

½ teaspoon fresh black pepper

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